Best River Kayak Reviews

Experienced kayak fishing enthusiasts know that not every kayak is suitable for fishing a river. It might not make a difference what model you are using in slow flowing waters, but as soon as the slower flow turns into rapids of white water breaking over your bow, you better make sure to choose the best kayak available for fishing on a river!

We created this guide in order to support you in making an informed buying decision about which kayaks models are suitable for river fishing and therefore worth purchasing and which models are not.

How to Choose the Right Kayak for your Fishery

Kayak fishing offers a wide range of diverse places to catch fish and an almost endless variety of species. Therefore you have to ask yourself the right questions to make sure that you purchase a kayak that matches your personal needs and specific fishery.

It basically comes down to two important factors, namely the length and the width of your kayak. Sounds simple? Unfortunately it is not, because there is an increasing number of brands in the market today offering various models for different purposes. So let’s start with…

4 Key Questions – Best River Fishing Kayak

Before purchasing a new fishing kayak make sure to ask yourself and answer the following questions:

How much capacity do I need?

There are two different aspects, which both have to be considered at this point. First and foremost ask yourself, what is the weight capacity that I require? The (ka)yak does not only have to be able to carry the weight of your fishing gear and additional accessories, but also your weight. So look out for a kayak that suits the size of your body. If you are over 6 foot and you carry some weight, a rather wide model is key, because a kayak’s stability is dependent on your body size.

Secondly, there has to be enough space in the hull to store all your equipment. The gear brought on a fishing trip varies from one angler to the next , because everybody tends to have different preferences on what is essential. So make sure to consider this.

How maneuverable do I need to be?

Of course, if you are out on a bay, you don’t need to be really maneuverable, which means you can use a long boat with nice tracking. However, if you see yourself in class 1, 2 or 3 rapids on a river, that’s a totally different story! You have to be maneuverable here for your own safety, therefore choose a shorter kayak.

There are parts of rivers without any rapids at all, where maneuverability is not that important, but please keep in mind: Shorter kayaks are much easier to maneuver than longer ones. A long kayak will not be able to turn quickly and avoid rocks in a nice flow. Additionally the hull of a good river fishing kayak is shaped like a banana, which means that it’s nimble and can stay and spin in a vortex.

Am I going to be standing and fishing?

A kayak’s stability relates to its width. In general, the wider a kayak the more stable it is going to be in the water, meaning the easier it is going to be to stand on it (Note: Some yaks are made specifically for standing and fishing).

Furthermore standing and fishing from a kayak is rather dangerous in white water and you are therefore probably going to do it in shallow water, so you should also take into consideration the type of water you are fishing.

How fast do I need to go?

If your fishery is one of expansive open water, like salt water or larger reservoir you want a larger kayak, because it is much faster. Sometimes speed can be an advantage. If you are working schools of fish like Menhaden and they pop up to the surface and you can see birds in the distance attacking them from the top, you have to get there fast or all fish will have disappeared, when you arrive.

Here are some other fast boat applications:

  • Expansive Flat Water Fisheries
  • Tournament Fishing
  • Tidal Rivers
  • Ocean Fishing
  • Large Reservoirs

Also keep in mind that even if sit-on-tops are the most popular fishing kayaks, because they are very comfortable and self-bailing, they come with one major disadvantage and that is their heavy weight.

Further Aspects to Consider


The best kayak for river fishing will cost you $1700 or more without additional accessories such as PFD and paddle. Obviously, you don’t have to get the best of the best, especially if you are a beginner. But try to avoid purchasing a cheap, low-quality kayak, which is likely to break on rocks and in river rapids.

Upswept Bow

An upswept bow prevents your boat from breaking through standing waves and instead forces it on top of them. This way you are nimble and can follow the best line through coarse waters. In addition to that paddling upriver is much easier if the nose of your kayak is high above the surface.

Strap or Store

Remember that you might have to strap or store your gear on your fishing kayak safely, if you are going for rough water. You don’t want to lose your precious equipment due to a crash or a standing wave that washes across your deck. Therefore look out for kayaks with lashing or cording possibilities for your rods, etc.

Furthermore a great river fishing yak is one that allows you to access your tackle without you having to get up or move around, because they provide places to storage gear under, in or next to the seat.

Pedal vs. Paddle

Although you cannot fish and paddle at the same time, we do not recommend pedal-driven models to beginners for fishing rivers. It’s true, pedal-driven kayaks are perfect for open water kayaking, but less suitable for shallow rivers with mud banks and rocks or trees sticking out of the surface. The pedals are likely to get damaged. But here is a small consolation: paddle-driven kayaks are lighter in weight and usually faster.

There are numerous manufacturers in the market that create great yaks suitable for fishing rivers. To find your perfect match, you should try to paddle as many of them as you can.

Best River Fishing Kayaks

1. Hobie Mirage Pro Angler Kayak Review

With the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler, rutters are mounted a little further up than some of the other pedal-driven kayaks, which means that it is not only suitable for river fishing, but that with this kayak you can really take a sharp turn. Furthermore, it is very stable so you can stand upon it, if you want and additionally take plenty of gear on your river fishing trip.

2. Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 Kayak Review

With sit-in fishing kayaks there is less plastic making them lightweight, which gives you extra speed.

3. Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 Kayak Review

Are you going to stay on your yak? If yes, then you need a much wider boat. A kayak with a wide hull allows you to stand on it and sight-fish a greater area. The Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 is great for fishing Suwannee Bass as you can comfortably stand on the 33-inch fishing yak.

4. Wilderness Systems Commander 120 Kayak Review

Another option for a kayak to stand and fish from is the Wilderness Systems Commander 120. With its 12 foot length it’s a bit faster due to better tracking.

5. Wilderness Systems Tarpoon 100 Kayak Review

The Wilderness Systems Tarpoon 100 is suitable for rivers and especially for small anglers. It’s a 10-foot yak and therefore easy to maneuver in the river. With only 55 pounds of weight it stands out in our river fishing kayak reviews as it is easy to transport even for a single angler by himself. Last but not least it’s easy to put in almost any truck.

6. Wilderness Systems Tarpoon 140 Sit On Top Kayak Review

The Wilderness Systems Tarpoon 140 is a much faster kayak suitable for expansive flat water fisheries, tidal rivers and especially bays where speed is your biggest advantage. The 14-foot-long fishing kayak stands out due to its great tracking.

7. Wilderness Systems Tarpoon 120 Sit-on-Top Kayak Review

The Wilderness Systems Tarpoon 120 sit-on-top kayak offers a great blend of speed and maneuverability. On the other hand the Wilderness Systems Ride 135 is a little bit longer and increasing in speed, but still has a nice and wide hull for standing applications.

8. Native Slayer 12 Kayak Review

Great for stalking bass: Native Watercraft Slayer 12 Kayak

9. FeelFree Moken 12.5 Kayak Review

The FeelFree Moken 12.5 is perfect for hooking shoal bass.

More Kayak Fishing Content

Kayak Fishing: Surviving the Devil’s River

Last but not least, we would like to recommend to you the following video created by Robert Field. Robert is a true kayak fishing enthusiast and provides great content with regular videos on his YouTube-channel. (If you are interested to know Rober’s answer to the question: What is the best kayak for fishing on a river? we would highly recommend you to get in contact with him and benefit from his huge knowledge and years of experience!)

In this video of almost 40 minutes Robert and three of his friends go on a 5-day kayak fishing & camping trip down one of the wildest rivers of southwest Texas known as the Devil’s River.

In addition to largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing, Robert goes through his preparation process of a multiday kayaking trip step by step and provides some really helpful tricks on how to get along in a remote environment with only the equipment you have stowed in your yak. So without further ado…